Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Journalists or stenographers? We report. And, heck, we'll decide, too.

Over at The Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum links to a (registration-required) piece from the LA Times, from which he quotes:

Almost half of Medicare recipients dislike the new prescription drug law, and nearly 3 in 10 seniors and disabled persons say the issue will influence their vote for president, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

The survey suggests that there are "maybe a half-million seniors" who might swing their votes to Democratic candidate John F. Kerry and another "1 million to 2 million whose votes might be up for grabs on this issue," said Drew E. Altman, president and chief executive of the private, nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

....Only 3 in 10 of those on Medicare believe that the law's benefits — partial coverage of prescription drug costs for those who choose to participate in that program, a voluntary prescription discount card available until the drug benefit takes effect in 2006, and new coverage for some preventive health services — will help them personally.

It's that last paragraph that really, really grates on me: "Only 3 in 10 of those on Medicare believe that the law's benefits ... will help them personally." To which the only meaningful response is, "Who gives a rat's behind what the recipients think?" What's the truth behind the bill, and who does it really help?

It's no secret that the Bush administration has been incredibly dishonest in explaining the benefits of the recent Medicare "reforms". And what that means is that it's almost worthless to ask the recipients themselves what they think of it, when those recipients have been given only the most biased and distorted picture of what's in it for them. (It's like those annoying man-on-the-street interviews that news programs use to pad their time. Sorry, but I don't really care what the man on the street thinks. I want to know what the experts think -- you know, the folks who have actually taken the time to do some research.)

So, when it comes to reporting on things like Medicare reform, you find the vast majority of the media simply reporting what's handed to them, and then doing these worthless public opinion surveys. And what should they be doing? Well, gosh, wouldn't it be nice if someone actually sat down, went through the legislation carefully, crunched the numbers, analyzed the membership and the demographics, and finally wrote something like, "According to our analysis, 18% of Medicare recipients, would see a benefit, 12% would see little or no change, while the remaining 70% would notice moderate to serious cuts in their benefits." See how that works? Now that's news, and it actually means something. It's mathematical, it's objective, and it doesn't depend on a five-second sound bite from Joe Six Pack, who most likely doesn't have clue one about how his Medicare works.

But, sadly, the mainstream media, in their overwhelming obsession to be fair and balanced and unbiased, have turned into nothing more than stenographers. "The Bush administration claims this about Medicare, while Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry claims exactly the opposite. Next, a cigar-smoking dog. Don't miss that one!" And the competing claims? Who's closer to the truth? Unfortunately, this is apparently not the media's job any more since that would require, like, work.

Just this indefensible laziness was on display front and center during the 2000 presidential debates, when Al Gore made (as I recall) some budgetary claims, and then-Governor Chimpy McFlightSuit dismissed it as being just "fuzzy math". Naturally, the media had a field day repeating Bush's "fuzzy math" sound bite. And, just as naturally, few of them took the time to actually examine the competing claims to see who was more accurate. Wouldn't that have been useful information to have?

Your media. Stenography in action.

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